America's oldest existing courthouse is so historic, British loyalists were its original judges and they made New Yorkers' lives a living hell. 

Home to America's Oldest Courthouse

When people walk into the Fulton County Courthouse, they are literally stepping back in time. The building has undergone multiple name changes since it was first built in 1772, which makes it older than the U.S. Constitution.

The courthouse, which is located on the corner of West Main Street in Johnstown, was first named the Tryon County Courthouse. Years later, it was rebranded as the Montgomery County Courthouse and then ultimately titled the Fulton County Courthouse.

The structure is one and a half stories tall, five bays wide, and three bays deep - which is tiny compared to modern-day courthouses.

History of the Courthouse

Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons
Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons
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Plans to build the courthouse were first presented in 1769, where British loyalist Guy Johnson challenged the size of Albany County. Back then, the jurisdiction ranged from Ulster and Dutchess Counties all the way to Rome.

Johnson lobbied to have a courthouse constructed in Johnstown and the request was ultimately approved. And with it came the formation of a new county - Tryon County.

Johnson served as one of the original courthouse judges and stayed in his role until 1776, when revolutionary sentiment in the Mohawk Valley began to fester. Of course, anger toward the British Empire hit a boiling note because loyalists packed the court andd levied multiple heavy taxes on residents. Additionally, the judges approved the construction of a jail and strictly applied the law.

Obviously, Johnson's policies didn't make him a popular man. So he, as well as other representatives of the Crown, fled to Canada when the Revolutionary War began.

Reenactors Celebrate Revolutionary War Battles Of Lexington And Concorde
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The courthouse was the scene of a bloody battle in 1781, when loyalists raided Johnstown but were soundly pushed back into Canada. One loyalist was Captain Walter Butler, who once was a lawyer whose father, John Butler, served as one of the original judges for the courthouse.

General Butler was killed days after that battle took place, where he met his demise when fording on the West Canada Creek. Legend claims when news of his death reached Johnstown, the courthouse bell began ringing as residents rejoiced in the street.

Apparently, the people celebrated Butler's death more than the actual defeat of the British Empire.

Historians consider the Battle of Johnstown as one of the bigger Revolutionary War battles to be fought in New York State.

Change to Fulton

George In Battle
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Residents renamed Tryon County to Montgomery County in 1784 to shed its loyalist history and honor Revolutionary War hero, Richard Montgomery. The courthouse was then rebranded as the Montgomery County Courthouse.

The courthouse underwent a final name change after more people moved further into New York. Populations grew after the Erie Canal opened in 1825 and especially after the openings of the Utica and Schenectady Railroads in 1836.

Residents in areas surrounding the courthouse began to feel they were being overshadowed by other parts of Montgomery County, so lines were redrawn again in 1838. That was the birth of Fulton County, named after Robert Fulton, who is known for his work on the steam engine.

Of course, because the courthouse was stationed within the new district lines, it was aptly renamed to the Fulton County Courthouse.

National Bragging Rights

Since the courthouse was constructed in 1772 and remains in operation to this day, it is the only courthouse in America to have been continually used since pre-revolutionary times. It is also the only colonial courthouse in the state of New York.

So, if you ever need to report to court in Fulton County, you'll be stepping foot in one of the only remaining places in America that allowed the British to exercise their power over Americans once upon a time.

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